(Tax planning): Area consultants give timely tax tips

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY JULIE ANDERSON
Tax time often brings with it headaches, stress and needless worry. But with a few tips from area experts, the whole process can be made a little easier.

The first step in reducing tax preparation is gathering receipts and papers.

James Labelle, Jim?s Accounting and Tax Service in Marion, said people should gather all of their 1099s and W-2s for income and expenses.

Dawn Herbel, Tax Plus, Marion, recommends people have their W-2s and 1099s paper clipped together and have a list of itemized deductions written out to speed up the process.

People may be surprised to find out about a few expenses that can be classified as deductions.

For instance, Herbel said people often don?t think about child care. To deduct child-care expenses a person needs the name, address and Social Security number of the provider, as well as the amount paid.

Labelle said he notices people often don?t often think about work-related mileage. He said if people travel to work and don?t get paid for it, they need to keep track of the mileage.

Herbel said to use mileage as a deduction, a person needs the number of miles for commuting and the total number of other miles driven.

The cost of uniforms also can be deducted on tax returns.

Another thing people don?t usually think about, according to Phyllis Meisinger, Meisinger?s Public Accounting Service, Inc., is to bring in their real estate tax receipts.

Also, Meisinger said if people contribute $250 or more to charities they can bring in receipts to claim it as a deduction.

Farmers have additional considerations.

Meisinger said farmers need to have income and expenses organized, including Farm Service Agency payments and real estate tax receipts.

Farmers also need the address and social security of individuals who were paid $600 or more for machine hire or rental expense.

She said to make the process go more smoothly, farmers need to keep accurate books and post income and expenses throughout the year. This will allow them to see where they stand and make changes throughout the year.

?If they wait until the end of the year, it?s too late to make any plans,? Meisinger said.

She said keeping current records helps farmers know what they need to do to save taxes.

Deciding who prepares a person?s taxes can be as important as having the right information.

?They need to make sure they find someone they trust and will work with them,? Labelle said.

He said it is important that people ask questions. He likes to eliminate any doubts his clients may have.

Labelle said a good tax preparer provides an outline around Christmas-time so a person can see what is needed and still make some late adjustments.

Meisinger said tax preparers must be educated about the forms and know what they are doing.

Once the forms are filled out, the next step is to file.

?Electronic filing is the safest way to get your return to the IRS,? Herbel said.

She said every year many forms get lost in the mail or are lost once they get to the IRS office. When that happens, the person filing the return is held responsible.

In addition to filing electronically, Herbel said, the safest method of payment is through direct debit or by credit card if filing electronically. If checks are mailed, she said to be sure to write out ?Internal Revenue Service? on the check because IRS can be changed into ?MRS. Smith? or some other name.

She also said people should send their forms by certified mail with a return receipt requested.

Finally, people shouldn?t wait too long to file their returns.

?If they wait until the 15th (of April), a lot of them are scrambling,? Labelle said. ?You don?t have all of the time in the world at the last second.?

Labelle said if all a person has is a W-2, they can come up to the last day if necessary. But contrary to what some people think, it will not help them escape an audit.

He said the longer a person waits, the harder it is to find someone who can get the work done on time.

Meisinger recommends people take their information to be prepared by April 1 so there is enough time to get everything completed.

?If they do wait until April 15, they should expect a wait in the tax preparer?s office,? Herbel said.

Because a lot of people wait until the last day and the Marion post office closes at four, people can bring their returns to her office and file the return electronically for $25.

If people choose, they can file an extension for $10.

Something to consider for next year are education expenses. A new bill will take effect July 1 that will allow deductions for donating money into educational funds for children and grandchildren.

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